For foreign fighters, the war is unlike any they’ve seen.

For foreign fighters, the war is unlike any they’ve seen.

DRUZHKIVKA, Ukraine — Four months after Russia invaded Ukraine, foreign combat veterans who answered the Ukrainian president’s call to fight are grappling with the grueling reality of a war unlike any they have seen.

Many are American and British veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they could count on calling in airstrikes for protection and other critical support. In Ukraine, the military effort is essentially bare-bones, leaving Ukrainian forces — and their foreign-fighter allies — to face a larger and better-armed Russian invasion force without basics, like steady meals, and even some tools of modern warfare that would help them level the field.

“This is way more intense than what I saw in Afghanistan,” said Brian, a former U.S. Army paratrooper, who did not want his last name used for security reasons. “This is combat, combat.”

That reality, volunteer fighters say, has driven away some of the hundreds of people who first arrived in Ukraine to help fight what many felt was a just, and deeply lopsided, war. Of those who remain, some now work directly for the Ukrainian military, which has used them to plug gaps in frontline abilities, including filling a desperate need for medics.

Some would-be fighters are still wandering the country — their goals vary and include building an online following, getting a first taste of battle or, in some cases, finding others who espouse far-right beliefs, according to fellow fighters. But the most professional foreign soldiers have increasingly earned respect from their Ukrainian comrades, as well as the country’s leaders.

Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, especially applauded those who fought recently in one of the war’s most grueling battles, in Sievierodonetsk, saying that their “motivation, professionalism, their preparedness for urban warfare” played an important role in holding off the Russian troops for so long.

They are “just what we needed,” he said.

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